Divorce often brings out the worst in people. The process of divorce for some may be long and drawn out and cause not only financial stress but take a serious toll on one’s mental and emotional well-being. It is during these stressful times that many spouses are under the wrong impression that while in the midst of their divorce it is the perfect time to try and put their spouse through the proverbial wringer. However, you should not allow your anger to take over as often times the outcome will not be worth the temporary satisfaction you may have and your conduct has the potential to create serious financial implications. Pursuant to New York Court Rules and Regulations (“NYCRR”), in civil matters, such as divorce proceedings, the court has the ability to impose financial costs and sanctions upon parties and attorneys if they engage in frivolous conduct.[i]
Pursuant to 22 NYCRR 130-1.1(c), conduct is frivolous if:
- It is completely without merit in law or fact and cannot be supported by a reasonable argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law;
- It is undertaken primarily to delay or prolong the resolution of the litigation, or to harass or maliciously injure another; or
- It asserts material factual statements that are false.
While you may be under the impression that costs and sanctions may be one lump sum payment this is not always the case. The courts have the broad discretion to impose financial costs and sanctions as they see fit based upon the facts and circumstances of the case. A perfect example of just how broad the courts discretion may be in imposing sanctions pursuant to 22 NYCRR Part 130 is highlighted in a recent decision from the Supreme Court, Suffolk County, entitled Jessica T. v. Kieth T.[ii]
In Jessica T., the defendant made it his mission to prolong the litigation and attempted to use the legal system to abuse the plaintiff. In his efforts to delay the case and further terrorize the plaintiff, defendant manipulated the court process by blatantly lying under oath, set forth frivolous and specious arguments and allegations, presented witnesses with uninformed opinions, caused drawn out conferences and examinations of witnesses that were not probative, refused to pay timely support payments, refused to help save the marital home from foreclosure, harassed and annoyed plaintiff and their child and refused to pay for court-ordered expenses. The defendant attempted to do anything and everything that would inflict further harm on plaintiff. In the end, his actions may have allowed him to prolong the case but as a result, he suffered financial sanctions imposed by the court.
The court noted that this case stands out to be one of the most insidious cases of domestic violence it has ever seen. As a result, pursuant to 22 NYCRR Part 130, the court compensated the plaintiff for the injuries she suffered due to defendant’s malicious, vexatious, and abusive litigation tactics by imposing sanctions upon the defendant in accordance with 22 NYCRR Part 130. The court, as a form of sanctions, directed the defendant to pay plaintiff ten (10) years of maintenance and refused to credit the defendant for any payments of maintenance he made during the pendency of the case which spanned over approximately six (6) years.
So what’s the moral of the story? When you are involved in civil litigation of any kind, especially a divorce proceeding, do not allow your emotions to negatively influence your behavior. Your divorce is not a game and if you treat it as such, you may be the one who loses.
Every matrimonial matter is fact specific with its own unique history and circumstances. For this reason, the material in this blog is only meant to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. Readers of this article should seek specific legal advice from legal counsel of their choice. In the event that you need legal assistance, please contact Hanna E. Kirkpatrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or (516) 393-8259 or Samantha M. Guido at email@example.com or (516) 393-8250.
[i] 22 NYCRR 130.
[ii] 2020 NY Slip Op 50673(U) (Sup. Ct. Suffolk Cty 2020).